Brian Lynch: His Unsung Trumpet Heroes

Trumpeter pays tribute to unheralded players from past and present

In his appropriately titled Unsung Heroes album, Brian Lynch pays tribute to ten unheralded trumpeters, all of whom were strong influences on him. The 54-year-old has recorded over 15 albums as a leader and, like all of his heroes, has been a sideman (heralded and unheralded) with Art Blakey, Eddie Palmieri and other greats. In his Tribute to the Trumpet Masters album recorded for Sharp Nine in 2000, Lynch saluted several of the trumpet greats, including Woody Shaw, Blue Mitchell, Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. But for this album, he decided to focus on some players who may be lesser known, but were nonetheless important influences on him and other modern trumpeters.

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Brian Lynch
By Tomoji Hirakata
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Brian Lynch
By Tomoji Hirakata

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“I feel that in order to really appreciate the richness of the tradition of the music as a whole or the instrumental tradition of an instrument like the trumpet, you can’t say it all by just concentrating on a few figures,” explains Lynch. “We could get a very good picture of [jazz trumpet] music by just listening to Miles, Dizzy, Freddie and Clifford Brown, but we wouldn’t get an idea of the whole picture. So the idea of a looking at the larger group of figures has been very important to me, and this goes for all instruments, whether it be Cedar Walton or Kenny Kirkland in the history of jazz piano or Hank Mobley with the tenor saxophone. I think things would be somewhat impoverished in the imagination if you only knew about the big names. And then there’s also the aspect of how some of these [musicians] had personal relationships with me and how they’ve touched me, and how they’re personal mentors.”

In addition to producing the nine cuts on the CD, Lynch recorded another two volumes of material that he’s making available via digital download at his record label Holistic MusicWorks’ website. Playing with Lynch on this well-produced album is Vincent Herring (alto sax), Alex Hoffman (tenor sax), Rob Schneiderman (piano), David Wong (bass) and Pete Van Nostrand (drums), with Vicente “Little Johnny” Rivero (congas) on a few cuts.

Lynch spoke by phone from his home in New York City about each of the ten trumpeters to whom he paid homage with this project. In addition, he gave us a “Jazz Playlist” with his recommendations for cuts by these “unsung heroes” of jazz trumpet.

Tommy Turrentine
I would consider Tommy a mentor. When I first came to New York in the early 1980’s, he was very supportive of me and encouraging of my playing. At the time that I met him, I was also becoming more cognizant and more interested in how deep the music we call bebop is and the music that comes out of that tradition. His playing really exemplifies that for me – the amount of great lines, all the feeling he puts into it, the purity of the melodic conception that he had – all those kind of things – it really knocks me out. I had become enamored of Kenny Dorham’s playing before I met Tommy and there’s a lot of things in common in terms of his melodic structure and very reminiscent of the great Fats Navarro too with his own individual stamp on it. Also, I think he’s a great writer [so] having the opportunity to record a lot of tunes of his which have never been recorded before was very meaningful to me. There’s definitely a personal relationship with me.

Idrees Sulieman
He’s an example of somebody you can listen to and it’s like listening to an amazing jazz history lesson—somebody who was around at the very beginning of bebop. He recorded with Monk in ’47; he was playing at Minton’s. People always talk about the great sound of Freddy Webster a lot and he’s considered to be somebody who really brings the quality of Freddie Webster’s tone quality into his ballad and lead playing. I got a chance to meet him in New York and hear him play. I think there’s one example of hearing him play in later years is on a record he did on Steeplechase with Cedar Walton’s trio backing him and on that record, it’s the most amazing modernist, expressive playing you can imagine. It’s highly recommended. He’s someone who writes amazing, wonderful lines on familiar progressions—not just standards but actually recasting jazz tunes with another melody. I love his playing a lot.

Louis Smith
I used to play his tunes a lot with a colleague of mine, Jim Snidero, a great alto player. We had a group together in the ‘80s and we would play a lot of his music—not just the famous album with Cannonball Adderley, Here Comes Louis Smith where he played under the pseudonym “Buckshot La Funke.” That was a great record. From the tune perspective, he’s really ingenious at constructing these counterfactual lines on the standards that are almost like compendiums of bebop and hard bop vocabulary. It’s very entertaining. I get a real kick out of this stuff but he was one hell of a trumpet player. He’s still around, but he’s been ailing so I’m not sure how much he’s playing now, but he was an incredibly strong trumpet player. I also feel an affinity with Louis Smith because looking at his personal history, his approach to playing the instrument and his studies of the instrument reminds me of my own. For instance, the fact that he comes out of the jazz tradition pretty purely but also was very concerned about what you would call: “correct trumpet technique.” He studied with some very good teachers, like the gentleman up in Michigan named Clifford Lillya—one of the heavy guys of mid-twentieth century trumpet pedagogy. He’s somebody who’s really getting into the instrument and expanding and very flexible in the way that he plays the instrument. That’s always been my own personal philosophy about maintaining my technique. He’s inspirational to me in that regard.

Claudio Roditi
He was definitely a mentor to me and still is. I played alongside him a lot when I first came to New York and he helped get me a lot of gigs. He was very encouraging, even before I came to New York. I met him through jam sessions. There are two musicians that I have a lot of contact with that I always have to bow down to in terms of their approach to the instrument, their consistency and their overall “hipness” of their playing and that’s Claudio and the alto saxophonist, Charles McPherson. People know about Claudio and he’s definitely well-respected and he’s known in the jazz world but I think he’s still underrated. He’s the real deal, the whole package. He’s got the intensity and finesse in his technical approach to playing jazz on his instrument. I don’t know anyone like him. I think he’s one of the absolute best of anyone who’s ever played the instrument—a great man and a true artist.

Kamau Adilifu
His playing and the records he was on in the mid-to-late-70’s that I was listening to when I was growing up were a really big influence on me. From him I consciously picked up a lot of things about my phrasing and maybe about the way I articulate notes. He had this really wonderful legato approach but at the same time with a lot of fire. There’s something about his playing that’s really stuck with me and he really had a definite influence on my playing.

Joe Gordon
I didn’t even know his playing but when I started hearing Joe Gordon play, I also heard the sort of commonality in our approach to like maybe the way we get from note to note on the instrument. Joe Gordon has become one of my favorite players too. He’s from Boston and he came up in the early ‘50’s and mid-‘50’s. He played in the Jazz Messengers with Horace Silver after Kenny Dorham left. He’s part of Silver’s Blue for instance. He made a couple of really wonderful recordings and he went out west and played with Shelly Manne. He’s on those Shelly Manne Live at the Blackhawk records as well as a number of other things. He died really young, tragically in a fire, at the age of 32. Definitely under the radar but I find him a quite interesting player with really interesting compositions. Gordon’s “Terra Firma Irma,” which starts the CD out, is a great opener. It’s like a cross between “Milestones” and “Janine.” It has an ebullient, jumpin’ out sort of quality. I met Gordon’s wife Irma in Brooklyn back in the day, so there’s a bit of the personal aspect to it. I play another composition, a really pretty ballad called “Heleen” on the other volume. They’re both really fun to play.

Charles Tolliver
Charles is definitely a really big influence on me. The way he stretched out in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s with his group, Music Incorporated. He and Woody Shaw were my two guys when I was growing up in terms of their forward-looking and very contemporary approach to playing the trumpet and also in terms of playing as a band leader and as a composer. They were getting more into the Coltrane aspect of doing something more modern and modal. Tolliver is also very inspirational to me—to see that a trumpeter could lead a quartet and make it work. Not too many people were doing that then or are doing that even now. The kind of strength and stamina and fire that he had is something that is very influential to me. It serves as motivation to develop myself as a player to the point where I can sustain playing in a quartet all night without any sudden slackening of my playing. I’ve done a tribute previously to him. I wrote a tune called “Charles Tolliver” which is on the Tribute to the Trumpet Masters record. I’ve also recently recorded his tune, “Truth” and made it into a bolero for a record that’s just coming out now on the Criss Cross label which highlights my Latin Jazz stuff a little bit more. He’s a tremendous influence on me and it was a big thrill to do a tour with his big band a few years ago—to play that music with him, firsthand.

Ira Sullivan
Ira was coming out sort of obscurity and playing a lot in the Midwest, including my hometown, Milwaukee just at the point when I was getting ready to go to New York so I got the chance to get to know him and play alongside him at that point. He would tend to play more saxophone than trumpet, but when he picks up the trumpet, that’s like the closest thing you’re going to hear to the real spirit of Clifford Brown. An amazing trumpet player. I think a couple of years ago I was in Chicago for the festival and he was playing during the jam sessions as he often does. Getting up on the stand and playing two trumpet stuff with him was just an amazing experience. He’s a real jazz musician. Guys like him have been next to the fire. Still at this point [I’m] still very much an acolyte of that era and that conception of jazz music, even though I’m open to things that are going on now and a part of them, I’m still really revere and think it’s really important to know about and be around that stuff while it’s still here.

Donald Byrd
Donald’s a little bit more well-known but I think that he’s sort of overlooked in this era in terms of what people talk about and what they listen to. I wanted to recognize and pay tribute to his very important role in the jazz trumpet tradition. The tune of his I played, "I'm So Excited By You", is awfully fun to blow on! In recent years, he’s had some issues that have prevented him from playing a lot, but I think plays very well on those records from the 1980’s with Kenny Garrett and James Williams or Donald Brown. He’s somebody who’s been through a lot of lives and, like his protégé Herbie Hancock, he’s done a lot of things. You’ve got to recognize that there was a period of time when he was the cat on the scene and I think he influenced Freddie [Hubbard] a lot. His playing on so many of those seminal Blue Note records is music-making of a very high order.

Howard McGhee
He plays very differently than the kind of line that I come out of. Most of the modern trumpeters [a relative term] or the bop trumpeters onward come out of Dizzy and Fats Navarro. And Howard’s thing is a little bit different. The chord structure is very sophisticated but melodically more like the Roy Eldridge approach to it. But I find that very interesting. Some of my students are thinking of picking up his approach. He’s playing very contemporary sounding stuff but he puts some an old sort of way of getting around the horn into it. It makes me think there are things in his approach that haven’t been explored or extended yet. There’s so much we can get out of these guys with an imaginative sort of listening of what you’re doing. I also was reading a book called The Birth of BeBop by Scott DeVeaux, a really wonderful book about jazz as both social history and jazz musicology all wrapped up in one. I had much more of an appreciation for what an important figure McGhee was for the transition of the music. It’s the same sort of thing that Gunther Schuller says about the Swing era. He pays a lot of attention to Howard McGhee. So I think he’s somebody whose importance should be noted. Again like most people don’t have the faintest idea who he is. He wrote a very nice tune which is originally from the Teddy Edwards & Howard McGhee Together Again record on Contemporary. It’s called “Sandy” and it sounds like “Green Dolphin Street” at the beginning but then it goes someplace else. It’s fun to play.

Jazz Playlist: Unsung Heroes of Jazz Trumpet
By Brian Lynch

Joe Gordon: "Blue Daniel" from Shelly Manne and his Men Live At The Blackhawk (OJC)

Tommy Turrentine: "Fine L'il Lass" from Stanley Turrentine - Comin' Your Way (Blue Note)

Idrees Sulieman: "Mirror Lake" from Idrees Sulieman - Now's The Time (Steeplechase SCCD 31052)

Charles Tolliver: "Spanning" from Music Inc. Live At Historic Slug's (Strata East/Charly)

Howard McGhee: "You Stepped Out Of A Dream" from Teddy Edwards and Howard McGhee - Together Again (OJC)

Claudio Roditi: "Moment's Notice" from Claudio Roditi - Impressions (Sunnyside)

Kamau Adilifu: "Evening Song" from Charles Sullivan - Genesis (Strata East)

Ira Sullivan: "Shakey Jake" from Eddie Harris - The Lost Album Plus The Better Half (Vee-Jay)

Donald Byrd: "Junka" from Sonny Clark - My Conception (Blue Note)

Louis Smith: "The Outlaw" from Horace Silver - Live At Newport '58 (Blue Note)

Brian Lynch and band performing Louis Smith's "Wetu" in the studio:

Brian Lynch and band performing Tommy Turrentine's "It Could Be" in the studio:

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